Banishing the Butterflies:Conquering Performance Anxiety

When people are asked their number one fear, what do you think they say? Fear of performing in public. This is even higher on their lists than fear of death or cancer or snakes. Some people get physical symptoms like shaky knees, trembling, diarrhea, butterflies in their stomach. shortness of breath, or clammy palms before a performance. Others get so paralyzed with fear that they forget what they were about to say and their minds go blank. Some try to make up for their anticipatory anxiety by overstudying or overpreparing, sometimes weeks or months in advance. The fear of appearing in public or passing an examination or surviving an interview can be terribly detrimental to one’s life and career. A graduate student in music called us the other day in tears because she was about to be expelled from the music school because of her performance terror. She was very relieved to hear that we could very likely help her over- come her fear. If you are anxious in front of crowds, like her, you undoubtedly would like to find a way to speak or perform confidently and effectively, without being limited by fear or nervous- ness. Here are some suggestions which will hopefully help you increase your confidence.

Homeopathy- Homeopathic remedies can often provide the quickest route to relieving per-formance anxiety. Gelsemium (Yellow Jasmine) can be very helpful for people who experience an intense fear at the thought of performing or speaking, often to the point of trembling and even paralysis. They may even decide to give up and cancel their performance rather than risk failure. Lycopodium (Club Moss) is particularly useful for those are extremely self-conscious and who fear terribly making a mistake in front of others and looking stupid. They may get shaky and have gas or abdominal rumbling prior to speaking. The worst scenario for them is being asked to ad lib a talk for which they have not prepared or know little about the subject. Anacardium (Marking Nut) Is beneficial when a person is overcome by a sudden, profound loss of confidence. Their mind may go blank and the person cannot remember what they’ve prepared. Silica (sand) is for shy , quiet, reserved people who are very bashful and timid in public settings. They do not want to be the center of attention and worry that they have nothing worth-while to say. A final remedy, Picric acid, is useful for poeple who have overprepared to the point of mental exhaustion and don’t have enough energy left to perform.

A woman came to us for her arthritis, but in the course of the interview she lamented that her career as a pianist had been cut short prematurely by her terror at playing in front of people. As soon as she saw the crowd, she was filled with terror, became shaky, and her stomach was filled with butterflies. We recommended that she take Gelsemium prior to her perfor- mances. It worked like a charm. Another one of our patients came to us for help with his self-consciousness in public. Anytime he had to attend large social engagements with his co-workers, he became very uncomfortable and tongue-tied. Lycopodium brought him great relief.

Bach Flower Essences- We generally find the type of homeopathic remedies listed above to be deeper and longer-acting than the Bach remedies. However, in the case of fear of speaking or performing, you may want to try a few drops of Rescue Remedy before your performance.

Hypnosis- It is often helpful to use hypnotherapy to explore the roots of the performance anxiety. We may regress a person back to the first incident of such fear in their life, and help them release the fear and and integrate the experience into their life. It is also useful to find out the inner purpose for the fear and to learn whatever lessons are associated with it. Hypnosis is also very helpful to create a positive, confident, and successful future for the person.

NLP- We often use Neurolinguistic Programming in conjunction with some of the other mo-dalities in this article in such cases of fear. Through NLP techniques, we ask the person to recall one or more times in the past when they were able to access strength and confidence, either in a performance situation or another context. Then we teach the person to generalize that confidence to the situation which evokes performance anxiety. This is very effective and is based on the idea that if we can access a particular resource once, we can potentially do so all the time.

Visualization- Sit in a comfortable, quiet place. Close your eyes. Take a few minutes to relax your breathing. Now imagine yourself in a beautiful, serene place in nature. Or imagine yourself floating on a cloud above this lovely, tranquil scene. Take as much time as you need to allow that peacefulness to fill your being. Now imagine carrying that feeling of deep inner peace into the situation where you will be speaking or performing. Feel the fear replaced by calmness and confidence. Now imagine yourself carring out the performance just the way you would like and able to feel comfortable and natural with yourself in the process. Be sure to end by congratu- lating yourself and reminding yourself you can perform confidently whenever you wish.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Sufi master, offered another practical technique. When in a situation where you must appear in public, he advised, look around the room to find the most beautiful object. Then charge that particular object with your magnetism and energy. Through-out the performance or event, look at that object whenever your confidence begins to falter. Judyth used this technique once with great success. She had been caught in a traffic jam during a terrible storm. It was dark and there was practically no visibility. Unable to see the arm movements of the policeman, she followed the car in front of her. She was then pulled to the side of the road and given a $120 ticket for disobeying the officer, who insisted that he was motion- ing for her to stop. She had just come from teaching a stress management class and when she questioned the officer, he admitted to being under great stress, but was adamant about the ticket. When called to court, she followed Hazrat Inayat Khan’s instructions and focused her gaze continually on the eagle on top of the American flag, which was indeed the most beautiful object in the courtroom. She was able to remain relaxed and defend herself calmly, and the charges were dropped, to her great relief. The magnetized eagle saved the day.

Drs. Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman are naturopathic and homeopathic physicians and cofounders of the Northwest Center for Homeopathic Medicine in Edmonds, WA. They are coauthors of The Patient’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicine and Beyond Ritalin: Homeopathic Treatment of ADD and Other Behavioral and Learning Problems. They can be reached at (206) 774-5599.

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Written by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman ND MSW

Explore Wellness in 2021